Friday, January 31, 2014

Rutgers Geology Museum Open House 2014

This past weekend Gary and I were invited to another Rutgers Geology Museum event!  As usual it was a great turnout with a LOT of enthusiastic kids and adults.  What's great is that each year Gary and I have new information and experiences to share.  This year, for instance, I brought along some of the fossils we collected this past summer in New Mexico! 

Gary and his son, Joey, talk show a family a Coelophysis bone.  You can see our Dryptosaurus casts in the foreground.

Our good friend, Larry Felder, also stopped by with his family!  In addition to being a fantastic paleo-artist, Larry is also a huge supporter of the Jersey Boys who Hunt Dinosaurs. 

Wonderful smile, Joey.
One of the activities I do at events is called "Identify the Dinosaur".  It involves a line up of my toys scientific models and picking out which one represents an actual dinosaur.  Best line of the day was Larry's four-year-old daughter rolling her eyes and exclaiming "BIRDS. ARE. DINOSAIRS."


Adrianna Trusiak also made an appearance to support us.  Adrianna is from City College in New York studying geomicrobiology and is a colleague of Gary's. 

Adrianna no! That has long since expired!

There is also this small mural on display there that was painted by some guy back in 2010...

That is all for this week!  Join me Sunday for a Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scapanorhyncus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Sorry for skipping a week of prehistoric animal reviews.  This past week has been a crazy one with my graduate classes starting and the two special events the Jersey Boys took part in this weekend. (more on that later)

This week's creature was requested.  Check out ScapanorhyncusScapanorhyncus was a prehistoric genus of shark that lived during the early Cretaceous through the end of the Cretaceous (a few species have been named), 65 million years ago.  It is known mostly from teeth but a few full body fossils have also been discovered.  The average Scapanorhyncus was only a few feet long but some larger teeth suggest certain ones could grow to be almost ten feet in length!  Its teeth suggest it was a meat-eater, consuming fish, mollusks, carrion of dead animals that sunk to the ocean floor.  Scapanorhyncus fossils have been discovered in many countries around the world that were covered by ocean during the Cretaceous.

Scapanorhyncus lewisii by Christopher DiPiazza

Scapanorhyncus had a long body, two dorsal fins, and a super elongated upper tail fin.  It also had two long fins running down part of the length of its flanks.  It was likely not a very powerful swimmer like other kinds of sharks that hunted in open water.  Instead, it is possible that Scapanorhyncus spent most of its time hanging around the ocean's floor where it was dark and was an ambush hunter and/or scavenger.  Down there, most animals have no use for eyesight and rely on other means to navigate and find food.  In the case of Scapanorhyncus, that large paddle-shaped snout came in handy.  It would have had sensors, called ampullae, in it's face.  These structures allow the shark to pick up on electrofields given off by any moving creature in the water.  All sharks have them, but ones with hyper-elongated faces, like Scapanorhyncus, probably utilized them more.

Scapanorhyncus full body fossil

There is a modern shark that is very similar to Scapanorhyncus, called a Goblin Shark (Mitsikurina owstoni) that also has a long, paddle-shaped snout.  In fact, Scapanorhyncus was originally classified in the Mitsikurina genus but differences in teeth and fin structure deemed the two different enough to have their own genus.  Like Goblin Sharks, Scapanorhyncus would have hyper-extendable jaws that could strike extremely quickly and also create a vacuum to snag prey.  While these are also common in most fish...they look extra freaky on Goblin Sharks. (and presumably Scapanorhyncus)  Wanna see???  Check out this video!

That's all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!


Case, G and Schwimmer, D., 1998. Late Cretaceous fish from the Blufftown Formation (Campanian) in Western Georgia. Journal of Paleontology., 62(2). pp 290-301

Kent, B., 1994. Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Region. Egan Rees & Boyer, Maryland. 146 pp

Martin, R.A. "Biology of the Goblin Shark". ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research. Retrieved April 25, 2013.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Join Us at the 2014 Rutgers Geology Museum's Annual Open House!

This Saturday is the Rutgers Geology Museum's annual open house!  The Gary and I will again be present this year with fossils, paleo-art and fun activities!  For more information on the event check out the museum's website. Be sure to swing by and meet the Jersey Boys!

Mastodon skeletal mount at the Rutgers Geology Museum in New Brunswick, NJ.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Add-On Post: Review Disney's Dinosaur

Last week we reviewed the new movie out in theaters, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D.  During the review I addressed how Gary and I thought many folks unfairly compared it to other such children's dinosaur movies like The Land Before Time and You are Umasau.  After the review went live, I received a request on facebook to also include a comparison and review of yet another well-known talking dinosaur film, Disney's Dinosaur, which came out in 2000.

I remember my aunt taking me to see Dinosaur in the movie theater as a reward for getting good grades on my report card (I was twelve at the time).  I enjoyed it at the time and I recently went back and re-watched it.  I actually still enjoyed it.  The soundtrack is also AMAZING.  If you like epic classical scores from movies, seriously check out Dinosaur on itunes.

The main character of the movie is an Iguanodon named Aladar.  As an egg, Aladar was separated from the nest, got washed down a river (Moses dinosaur!) and somehow ended up on an island where the biggest creatures were lemurs (Sifakas to be exact I believe).  No, lemurs didn't exist back then but hey, lemurs were trendy during the early 2000s.  Just like penguins were a thing later on.  Now everyone seems to be obsessed with sloths and foxes (thanks internet!).  So this family of lemurs adopts the baby Iguanodon and raises him as one of their own.  Years later a meteor shower blows up the island except for Aladar and his immediate lemur family who rode on his back as he swam away.  Then they meet a whole crap-ton of other dinosaurs in the process of migrating, including other Iguanodons.  There is a cute girl Iguanodon (duh) and a douchy alpha male Iguanodon (of course).  Aladar makes friends with a rag-tag team of misfit dinosaurs, including an old Brachiosaurus, old Styracosaurus, and an Ankylosaur who acts like a dog.  Long story short, they almost get killed by natural disasters and some inaccurately over-sized Carnotaurus, the douchy Iguanodon gets killed because he is a douche, and Aladar gets the cute girl and makes babies with her.

I intend to review this in the same way I did the others from last week.  Some commented on how the letter grading system I whipped up was weird but I feel it works well by laying everything out clearly.

Visual Accuracy- This is tricky.  The dinosaurs themselves in general are really good.  The main characters are stylized a tad.  Unlike Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, in which the dinosaurs don't really show expression because they talk...telapathically, the characters in Dinosaur actually move their mouths and show emotion.  The Iguanodons, for example, which had beaks in real life, were given expressive lips over the beaks (which then look like teeth) to emote more clearly.  The Iguanodons also run on all fours in an almost mammal-like fashion which would probably break the animal's spine in real life.

Okay, Aladar.  Give me...scared!

The Carnotaurus villains are bigger than they were in life so they could be scarier for the sake of the movie.  I am glad they included them, however, instead of just another Tyrannosaurus.  In fact, I'd say it was thanks to Dinosaur that Carnotaurus was put on the map as a more mainstream dinosaur.  (They WERE really scary in the movie!)  Also, the Velociraptors are actually really spot on except for the fact that they don't have feathers (which was officially confirmed thanks to a fossil discovery made after the movie came out.)  Other than the no feathers their heads are just like the actual skulls and they are the correct size!  I even like their behavior in the movie as small prey hunters/aggressive scavengers instead of the all-too-popular tactical genius pack hunters portrayal.  Like in Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, I like how the predators, although portrayed as villains, are not unrealistically violent.  They kill to eat, not to kill.  They also back off when in risk of being hurt, themselves, like actual predators do. 

Dramatic Carnotaurus is dramatic.

The setting is all wrong time-wise.  The dinosaurs showcased are from varying time periods and continents PLUS modern lemurs which didn't exist at all during the Mesozoic.  I read somewhere (I can't remember now where exactly) that the creators didn't want to use actual Mesozoic mammals because they were "too ugly".  Really, Disney?  You can make ANYTHING cute.  Come on.

Like i said, this is tough because certain aspects of the movie have great accuracy, but others are just horribly wrong.  I'd say the most accurate parts are the background characters with no lines!  C+

Education- Education is sort of lacking here other than the fact that the dinosaurs look good.  Like I said above, the Velociraptors are portrayed well and Carnotaurus was made very popular.  Unfortunately, actual names of animals are never mentioned except for the Carnotaurus, which is referred to as a "Carnotaur" one time in the film.  There are actually plenty of other interesting animals featured not previously seen in pop culture like Pachyrhinosaurus, Pteranodon steinbergi, Koolasuchus, Oviraptor, Stygimoloch, Struthiomimus, and Icarosaurus, but the average person wouldn't be able to identify them just by watching the film.  D

That is a lemur holding a baby Iguanodon as if it were a human infant.  It's Disney, baby!

Take Home Message- This movie's plot and message are VERY similar to Walking with Dinosaurs 3D.  Outcast main character gets by not with brute strength, but by using his smarts and being a genuinely nice individual.  Never leave anyone behind.  Work together as a team to overcome big obstacles.  They also throw in the nice "loving families can come in all shapes and sizes" too.  B+

This is another movie that a lot of folks love to bash because it wasn't accurate and not 100% on par with every fanboy and girl's personal vision.  I still enjoyed it even though I wouldn't consider it an educational experience.  Visually it is beautiful, and did I mention the soundtrack is awesome?  It's amongst the best epic soundtracks in my honest opinion.  Seriously, go download it. 

So those are my thoughts on Dinosaur.  Hope you enjoyed it!  What did you think of the movie?  How does it compare to Walking with Dinosaurs 3D or any other children's dinosaur movie?  We would love to know your thoughts! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D: Review

Over the past few weeks it seems like everyone with a love for dinosaurs who owns a computer has been broadcasting their thoughts on the new Walking with Dinosaurs movie that came out in theaters on December 20th, 2013.  Well, I finally got around to seeing it for ourselves.

They even said 70 million years like it actually was for this story and not the go-to 65 million years everyone throws around all the time!

So after reading what everyone else has been saying in their reviews the general consensus I gather is that the movie is visually outstanding, dinosaurs are scientifically accurate, but the dialogue was so horrible that it ruined the entire movie.  After hearing and reading all of this Gary and I walked in to that near empty theater with low expectations.  We liked it.  We didn't even mind the dialogue

The impression that I am getting from a lot of my peers (adults who are fans of paleontology or in the field of paleontology) is that they really wanted a movie that was just about dinosaurs.  No dialogue.  Just a made up nature documentary similar to the Walking with Dinosaurs miniseries from 1999.  This was supposedly the original plan for this new movie, but voice actors were added at the last minute.  Some have said that even kids (the target audience for this movie, lets just face it) would still have benefited and the dialogue did absolutely nothing but hurt the film. 

If you know about my bio, you know that I am a man of many hats.  One of my jobs that pays the bills hats is that of a teacher.  I see thousands of kids of all ages every year, and literally just teach them all about animals and nature in the education department of an AZA accredited zoo.  (It's awesome!)  After many years of doing this, I like to believe that I know a little bit about how they think, or at the very least how they learn.  I am going to write this review while wearing my teacher hat.  Where should we start?  How about with an introduction?

Freezing the Picture and Giving Introductions About Each Animal...

One of the reasons this movie is really interesting is because they chose to feature all prehistoric animals that typically are not seen in pop culture.  Instead of Tyrannosaurus we saw Gorgosaurus.  Instead of Triceratops we got Pachyrhinosaurus.  Instead of Pteranodon, Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, and Parasaurolophus, we were given Azdarchids, Troodon, Hesperonychus, Edmontonia and Edmontosaurus.  Some children who are really into dinosaurs may already know some of those names, perhaps even all of them.  I can guarantee you that a large percentage of them do not, however.  This movie actually froze and gave a little narrated introduction for each kind of animal when it first appears in the film.  While many folks (mostly my peers) found this irritating, one must remember this is essential from an educator's point of view.  If we take a step back and look at another, much older, classic children's dinosaur movie, The Land Before Time, none of the dinosaurs were ever referred to by their actual names.  Instead we heard cute little descriptions like "long neck" when referring to sauropods, or "sharp tooth" when referring to tyrannosaurs.  This avoided any awkward forced dialogue between characters and gave the story more flow.  There is a downside to this, however. TO THIS DAY...TWENTY FREAKING FIVE YEARS LATER I still witness people, mostly my generation, refer to dinosaurs by those names, not their actual genus.  It drives me insane.  It's not called a spiketail.  Its called a Stegosaurus.  Get it right.  I beg of you.  What they did with Walking with Dinosaurs 3D prevents this problem that just doesn't seem to die...ever.  Don't be surprised if you see younger kids throwing around names like Pachyrhinosaurus and Gorgosaurus as their favorites from now on.  So was freezing the picture and giving a short intro for each kind of animal in the film good?  Yes.  Maybe irritating for hard-core folks, but overall a good thing.

Silly Dinosaur Voice Over Dialogue...

The voice acting was deemed annoying by many.  To be fair the characters pretty much never shut up for one minute until the end of the movie.   The jokes were corny too.  Jokes about poop, jokes about romance, there was even a joke about booze at the end...the list goes on.  If you get a group of people of various ages together what you will find is some of the adults will not find any of those things funny at all.  The rest, comprising of almost all the kids and some of the adults, will.  Humor is one of the most powerful ways to mask education especially for kids.  One joke line in the movie was referring to the Edmontosaurus migrating.  The character said something like "If you want to find food, all you have to do is follow the fat guy".  This was actually Gary's ten-year-old son, Joey's favorite line because he thought it was hilarious.  Guess what though?  He also learned one of the reasons why animals migrate and he's never going to forget it!   If instead of corny jokes we just had a deep, dramatic voice narrating here and there, like a typical television documentary, I'd bet my teaching experience more than half of the facts shared in that film wouldn't have been retained by children (and even some adults) compared to if they were wrapped in a pretty little humor package.  Another joke made at the end eluded to having a tiki bar in the museum amongst the dinosaur displays.  Gary and I would like to know if we could please make those happen for real?  Thanks.  Oh and poop jokes...seriously, who doesn't think poop is funny?

Anyone who's seen this episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia on FX knows just how funny poop jokes can be.  Last line of the episode was "Because poop is funny!"

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is definitely not the first successful children's movie to feature talking dinosaurs, however.  The two ones I keep seeing being compared to it are the late 80s classic, The Land Before Time and the 2010 Japanese hit, You are Umasao.  I have heard multiple fanboys peers say these were better movies than Walking with Dinosaurs 3D.  How about we sit down and actually compare them free of bias, shall we?  I'm going to go over each one and give it a letter grade based on these following points...

Visual Accuracy: How do the dinosaurs themselves look compared to what we know about them?  How accurate is the environment?  This is ignoring beauty.  This is just looking at science. 

Education: What scientific information about dinosaurs and/or nature could someone learn from watching this film?

Take Home Message: What other value, whether it be social example or even just a good story, can be gained from watching this film?

Lets start with the most famous one (spoilers ahead)...

The Land Before Time

Let's face it, Cera was always kind of a bitch.

 The Land Before Time follows Littlefoot, a baby "long neck" (Brontosaurus Apatosaurus?  No, Camarasaurus...crap) and his friends, Cera, Ducky, Spike, and Petrie (baby Triceratops, Saurolophus, Stegosaurus, and Pteranodon) on a journey to find their families after being separated from them by an earthquake.  They encounter a gigantic Tyrannosaurus, named Sharptooth, who's only goal in life seems to be to chase five comparatively bug-sized baby dinosaurs for days after he kills littlefoot's mom because adult meat-eating dinosaurs in The Land Before Time don't kill for food, they kill because they are evil and they like it.  (They also don't find poop jokes funny, the bastards.)

Visual Accuracy- The dinosaurs in this movie, especially the babies, are stylized to exhibit human emotions but you can still easily tell what kind of animals they are just by looking at them.  The setting mixes dinosaurs from all different time period's, however.  The antics they pull off for entertainment's sake are also highly unrealistic.  C

Education- I stated above NOT ONCE is an actual genus name like Triceratops or Stegosaurus mentioned in this film.  That is my biggest problem with this movie.  You can sort of deduct the diets of the animals since you see all of the main characters eat plants at some point, except for the pterosaurs which are inaccurately portrayed as herbivores.  F

Take Home Message- This movie actually has a sweet story.  It shows that people of all shapes, sizes and colors can be friends (even if three-horns probably didn't actually play with long-necks!).  It also gives the message that you don't have to be big to make a difference and introduces the idea of nontraditional families such as adoption (Spike the Stegosaurus is taken in by Ducky's Saurolophus family) and grandparents as primary caretakers (Littlefoot the sauropod only has his grandparents by the end of the film).  A

You Are Umasou

Look at that widdle biddy tail club!

You are Umasau is about a Maiasaura who accidentally hatches a baby tyrannosaur, she named Heart, in her nest alongside her biological son, named Light.  Heart eventually realizes what he is and goes on his own in fear of accidentally eating his adopted mother and brother who loved him as if he were one of their own.  As an adult tyrannosaur, having lived a life as a predator, he runs into a newly hatched ankylosaur.  He calls him "umasou" which means "delicious" and intends to eat him when he realizes that the tiny dinosaur thinks Heart is his father and that he just named him Umasau.  Heart can't bring himself to kill the adorable little guy (seriously it's the cutest freaking ankylosaur ever) and raises him as his own adopted son.  All the while he has to figure out how to deal with his fellow tyrannosaurs who don't support his choice of getting attached to potential prey.  

Visual Accuracy- Although the style and animation of this film are beautiful, the dinosaurs are barely recognizable.  The tyrannosaurs have round pacman heads, the Maiasaura look almost humanoid in their posture, and then there are dinosaurs that appear as if the artists just pulled them out of their asses. (As if there weren't over 600 species of known Mesazoic dinosaurs to draw inspiration from.)  The movie mixes animals from different time periods and the tyrannosaurs know kung fu.  D

Education- The only good thing, education wise, I can pull from this movie is the fact that the predators are not all villains.  It addresses the fact that everybody needs to eat and unfortunately some can only survive by killing others.  The predators also don't just kill, kill, kill all the time for no reason.  On more than one instance it portrays Heart, or another tyrannosaur, make a kill, and respectfully leave the rest of the herbivores alone.  Unfortunately, like The Land Before Time, no actual dinosaur names are said.  C-

Take Home Message- If you thought The Land Before Time was a tear-jerker, this one will have you on the floor crying in the fetal position.   Like Land Before Time, it also teaches that loving families can come in all different forms.  It also doesn't have any real villains, just characters that do what they do because they feel they need to.  Even the most seemingly hardened people can surprise you in this story.  A+

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D starts off in modern times following the worst actors in the world playing two kids and their paleontologist uncle.  There is a spooky telepathic bird that reminded me a little too much of the three-eyed raven from Game of Thrones which shows the angst-filled, too-cool teenager a view into the past.  Once we go back in time we follow a baby Pachyrhinosaurus, named Patchi, his crush, named Juniper, his douchy brother, named Scowler, and a sassy Alexornis as they grow up and struggle to survive against predators, seasonal climate change, and natural disasters.

Visual Accuracy- The dinosaurs themselves are probably the most scientifically accurate CGI renderings to date.  The movie also takes place in a specific setting, 70 million years ago in Alaska, and all the animals featured would have actually coexisted with each other in real life.  We can thank the awesome team of real scientists who were consulted every step of the way during this movie's production for all that.  Unfortunately the Gorgosaurus doesn't have feathers and the Edmontosaurus doesn't have a crest.  Not the movie's fault, however, since the scientific evidence for both of those ideas, ironically, was released during the movie's production when it was too late to make changes to the dinosaur models.  A

Education- This movie shows dinosaurs more or less behaving how scientists think they would have behaved.  There were also fun facts being stated throughout the duration of the film, via annoying little girl voice and silly voice over character dialogue.  Even though the predators in this movie are portrayed as the villains, they aren't unrealistically violent and behave like actual predators do, killing to eat, not killing to kill.  Like it or not you can't deny the fact that everyone walks out of the theater with at least one new bit of information stored away in his or her brain.  B+

Take Home Message- The story isn't as dramatic as the other two but it still has a message.  It supports brains over brawn (Patchi was the runt but he used his brain to get by.), the power of forgiveness (Patchi's brother was a douche...but was still his brother), and the importance of friendship and sticking together.  The film tells you to never give up and if you want something, go out and get it even if it means working hard.  This is even brought home in the lyrics of the end credits song by Matisyahu, called "Live Like a Warrior".  It's not original, but it works.  B

You may not agree exactly with my letter grades but was anything i wrote up there straight up incorrect?  Don't get me wrong.  The Land Before Time is one of my all time favorite animated movies.  I just watched You are Umasao a few weeks ago and I loved that one too.  I highly recommend them both to anyone.  Taking away nostalgia, however, are they necessarily better movies than Walking with Dinosaurs 3D?  Well...It really depends on what you want out of the experience.  A few things are for sure though; they all have talking dinosaurs, they were all made with kids in mind, and lots and lots of people like two of them but hate the third.  

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  So powerful that it prevents us from empathizing with kids now because we are so wrapped up in our own childhoods.  We could sit around all day with our noses up in the air saying how the dialogue ruined the movie and how we think it would have been much better without it because we would want it that way because that's what we originally envisioned when we heard about a new Walking with Dinosaurs movie.  We.  What about the target audience, the kids?  Oh, and saying that the dialogue in this movie was so horrible to the point that it actually forces kids to just watch and not think or feel for themselves is just not giving them enough credit.  Trust me.  I say this with full confidence as someone who's profession is literally teaching children about this exact subject.  Kids have plenty of imagination, feelings, and free thoughts regardless of what you show them.  All the little future paleontologists are going to go straight home after that movie and immediately start having their own inspired adventures during playtime with their dinosaur toys, or if they are anything like I was, with markers and a piece of paper.  

We decided to do one thing in our review that I didn't see any other blog do with theirs.  We interviewed an actual child.  Gary's son, Joey, came along with us.  Here is what he said.  No, we didn't feed him any lines...except for the one at the very end for extra cuteness.  Just watch. 

Gary brought up a great point as we were leaving the theater.  Would anyone have enjoyed The Land Before Time if it didn't have any dialogue?  What if Littlefoot and his pals spent the whole movie grunting instead of calling each other "flatheads" and "scaredy eggs"?  Maybe "I think I just stepped in some fear!" and "She likes me, and my hole!" are this generation's versions of that?  Don't agree?  Well like I said earlier, nostalgia is a powerful thing. 

What are your thoughts on Walking with Dinosaurs 3D?  Does anyone have kids who saw the movie?  What did they think?  We'd love to hear!